Smart Choices, a new nutrition-labeling program developed by a nonprofit group consisting of scientists, nutritionists, consumer groups, and food industry leaders, appeared to be making things easier on health-conscious consumers. By essentially slapping a big “Eat me, I’m healthy!” sticker on certain foods products that are worth eating from a nutritional perspective, the Smart Choices movement seemed to be in the right place for helping people eat more nutritious foods. But when the Smart Choices’ identifying green check mark began appearing on foods like Froot Loops, microwave popcorn, and other “unhealthy-sounding” foods after it was unveiled in August of 2009, people started to question what foods were really more nutritious, forcing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have to come to the rescue.
The Smart Choices nutrition-labeling program was initially designed to help food eaters identify healthier choices among specific food products. In order to have the symbol ingrained in its packaging, foods must meet certain benchmark criteria for “Nutrients to Limit,” like fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars. Specific categories of processed foods must also include “Nutrients to Encourage,” which include ingredients such as fiber, calcium, iron, and various other vitamins and minerals that need to be further included in most diets, says the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
But when the label started showing up on processed foods like sweet cereals and salty snacks, the FDA wrote to the general manager of the program and expressed concern that the label was “encouraging consumers to choose highly processed foods and refined grains instead of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
“As a registered dietician, I like that there is a label to help the consumer identify better choices,” says Keri Gans, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA). “It’s a good first step in combating obesity. But this particular program could be misleading to some consumers.”
Initially, the ADA examined the label and realized that Frosted Flakes could qualify for the symbol simply because they’re made with fortified grains– and they meet the required caloric count. Plus, they’re relatively low in added sugar. On the flip side, a single serving of Perdue Perfect Portions Skinless Boneless Chicken Breast would not receive the seal of approval– because it surpasses the cholesterol and sodium requirements allowed, probably because most large meat producers “enhance” their products using saltwater.
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